Review – INC PenMark Permanent Markers

As someone who bolts to the stationery section of every store I enter, every once in a while I just have to dive into one of the budget options there (I say that like cheap crap isn’t something that I have innumerable piles of). And if you do this at Dollar General you’re very likely to end up with something made by INC, a brand I’ve looked at before that produces writing utensils that function. Is their current foray into permanent markers, the PenMark, any good?

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The bodies are a simple design. The body is a cylinder with a foil label that has minimal information printed on it. The cap mostly continues this cylindrical motif until its end, when it slants off at a slight angle. The clip is plastic and unsurprisingly molded into the cap (for safe keeping). At the other end there is a hexagonal step-down for posting, which the cap nicely clicks onto. Underneath the cap is a series of 3 step-downs that lead to a metal tube with a small, stiff felt-tip.

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The performance is as to-be-expected. They smell like permanent markers, and the line stays like permanent markers. The ink causes a lot of bleeding and feathering, even on high-quality paper; the result is a line considerably thicker than the “ultra fine point” stated on the package. The colors are all pleasant and readable, with the exception of yellow, which is, like most yellow, essentially useless, and they do stick to the paper and remain vibrant once applied. Water has no discernable effect on the markings, but alcohol does start to break down the dye/pigment. The lines will break down and feather under regular rubbing alcohol, and bleed through increases tremendously, but during my tests the lines actually remained legible.

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If you’re looking for an assortment of permanent marker colors on the cheap, these technically fulfill that requirement. The bodies are cheap, the nibs are brittle, the ink bleeds and is more-than-likely not archival quality. But they provide a mark that is suitably permanent on household materials (paper, tin cans, and plastic containers; they will fade, but they will leave behind a water-resistant mark) in a skinny, portable body which fits anywhere your average pen will, with a clip that holds them in place.

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Review – Muji Portable Scissors (35mm)

Scissors are one of the most useful tools the average person can have at their disposal. And, until I began looking for a more “travel-safe” option, were the main reason I kept a Swiss-Army Knife in my pencil case. My quest for an option that was a full scissors without a knife attached eventually led me to Muji’s minimal, compact, spring-loaded design. But how well do they actually shape up?

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When the cap is on, the entire device is a 4½ inch cylinder with a diameter of a little over a half inch and a thin wire clip attached on one side. The clear plastic cap is about 2½ inches in length. It snaps over a small ridge in the handle, and has an inner cylinder to keep the point of the scissors roughly on track. When it is removed, the scissor springs open using a wire spring mechanism and the white handle portion splits into two (with roughly 1/3 and 2/3 of the volume in either handle). There is virtually no written information on the entire device, save for a warning in Japanese (which I can’t read, but it has a caution triangle).

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Despite only having to do two things, the functionality of this little guy is slightly underwhelming. The clip is far too tight to be useful in most situations, though it doesn’t have any sharp edges that might cause catching or tearing. And the default sharpness of the blades is basically tolerable. They cut paper, tape, and blister plastic just fine (so more than 90% of situations are covered), but they struggle with cloth or more cellophane type plastics.

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These little guys are probably the best set of folding travel scissors I’ve found that haven’t been attached to a multi-tool. They’re relatively compact, substantial feeling, and efficient, despite being unergonmical and lacking significant cutting power. Sometimes the spring is a bit overzealous, but it’s a convenient feature since there are no finger-holes and I like having a body that doesn’t feel like it’s going to shatter every time pressure is applied to it. If I could, I’d still probably want my old Victorinox (multi-tool) scissors back in my bag, but as a portable, checkpoint-friendly option, these guys get the job done fairly inexpensively and without having to fold out stupid finger-holes.

Review – Kuretake No.14 Brush Pen

I think an ideal gift is one where you receive something that is useful or interesting to you, but from a direction you would have never looked yourself. Such was my case with the Kuretake brush pen number 14. For personal use, I’ve basically settled on my brush pens, and wasn’t really on the lookout for another, but I was still quite glad to receive one of these little guys as a present. Let’s see how it performs.

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The body of the pen is a black-flecked maroon, slightly-soft plastic that looks and feels a bit like ebonite. The cap is uniformly thicker than the barrel with a black cylinder protruding through a diagonal cutout for the top quarter-inch. From this comes a simple but functional spring-steel pocket clip. The barrel has no decoration save gold-imprinted Japanese lettering (that I can’t read) and an Arabic numeral “14”. The butt end is a similarly simple black convex disk. The section is made of the same piece as the barrel, and aside from a sealing ring for the cap, has only a single small step-down before a black plastic cone leads to the incredibly small “nib”.

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The little felt tip is only two millimeters long. And, despite many of the online references I found referring to this pen as “hard”, the line produced easily moves from half a millimeter to three millimeters. The ink is fairly black but not particularly dark, and it has a tendency to fade or split during long or fast strokes. It also bleeds/separates/fades when exposed to water. It’s not super runny but most work will still look ruined (it plays nice with alcohol, though). The feel of the grip section is nothing special but I have no real problems with it, and with the cap posted it is quite well balanced (the cap does feel like it might have a cracking problem with prolonged use, but the pen is disposable). Unfortunately, despite this, I just can’t seem to shake the feeling when using the pen that I’m not in control. Brush pens don’t play well with my style at the best of times and this guy can really get all over the place quickly.

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I’m not sure this pen would be useful as a serious artists’ tool: its ink doesn’t take traditional washes, the ink flow is sub-par, and the tip is imprecise. But as a portable sketcher it has a resilient body, a good clip and a wide range of possible expressions. It isn’t inexpensive, but it isn’t egregiously costed. This isn’t the be-all end-all of disposable brush pens, but id does make for a fine introductory pen or a “backpack beater” as it were.

 

Review – Moleskine Softcover Pocket Book

Perhaps I lose a little bit of “reviewer credibility” when I say that my main notebooks for years have been Moleskine ones (specifically hardcover pocket and large). I know they’re not the best notebooks in the world, and I am phasing them out of my routine (since I’ve mostly stopped with specific daily uses, and uniformity is less of an issue for a while) but they are widely available, simple, and consistent books of decent quality. That being said, the ones I use have always been hardcover, and at this (192 page) size I prefer the rigidity of a hard-back, but am I being unfair to the softcover books?

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First off, all Moleskines come with a wrap-around paper “package”, and I’ll admit, my book is old enough I don’t know where it went, but I assume now they have updated it to the same useless “reusable” packaging that has vague blanks about travel to fill in if that floats your boat. The cover itself is a nice, flexible (black) pleather wrapped around the book in a single piece. On the back “Moleskine®” is stylishly stamped near the bottom and the elastic band is attached at two points. The cover has a pleasant texture that is relatively even and doesn’t scratch easily, but does show the binding and attachment points underneath and impressions from the elastic closure. It also easily divots and is structurally weak at the corners.

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Inside is the same-old Moleskine stuff: a “belongs to” page at the front, a cheap ribbon bookmark (mine unravel more and more often these days), and a sturdy pocket in the back that I’ve never personally found a use for. The paper is a pleasant off-white with a nice smooth (but not slick) texture that takes ballpoints and pencil very well (if you’re using it one sided {so no 192 pages, as advertised}). With anything more significant you get a lot of show-through, and with fountain pens or markers you’ll get bleed-through. I find it pleasant to write or sketch on, and the fact that it’s acid-free means your work is safe over time, but it is fairly fragile stuff (I wouldn’t erase too much).

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In the end it’s what I expected, the same Moleskine quality with a cover that is more easily bent and damaged (I do care about how my books look). It will probably hold up to most types of use, but it won’t look pretty at the end (the pocket at the back does mean it maintains support for off-the-table use, though). It’s a fine notebook, with decentness all-around, from page feel to binding, but it seems like less and less of a deal as things progress. One can find books at WalMart (potentially of dubious archival-quality) that do the same things cheaper these days, and they might not have the same quality control, but they are so much cheaper. I like the Moleskines for their ubiquity and uniformity, but they’ve always been overpriced, and this cover just doesn’t do it for me.

Review – Daler-Rowney Simply Pocket Sketchbook (3.5×5.5) Hardback

Every time I have the time, I foolishly look in the notebook section at Walmart (both the office and/or crafts). I don’t know why, I always know that the notebooks won’t be great but I’ll be swayed to buy one anyway. In this case it was a hardback pocket sketchbook that I thought was only a dollar (it’s about 5 times that). The book basically has the same dimensions and look as a Moleskine Pocket notebook, but with 72 sheets of 100 gsm (65lb) “sketch” paper (heavier than the Moleskine notebook, lighter than their sketchbook, and with fewer sheets than either) at a discounted price. But is it a worthy “replacement”?

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The cover is very Moleskine reminiscent, being a black sort-of faux leather wrapped around cardboard, but in this case much more shiny and plastic-y. There are visible creases on both the front and back because the spine has been stiffened to remain flat, meaning the covers more or less “hinge” open. There is an elastic band attached to the back cover that does its job of holding the book together when wrapped around and warps the covers a little bit. Also on the back cover, stamped slightly off-center is the Daler-Rowney logo.

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Inside there is no strict “this book belongs to:” or logo page before getting right into the 72 sheets of “ivory” sketching paper, augmented by a very cheap looking/feeling black ribbon bookmark. Inside the back cover is a page-size pocket with cloth folds for strength, and I never use these so I can’t tell you much more than that.

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The paper itself is good. It is indeed fairly thick and heavy, with a grain that is smoother than most sketchbooks I’ve encountered but more toothy than any “notebooks” I’ve used. Aside from telling you that it’s “acid free”, the sticker on the front cover also has a picture of a pencil and a nib (I assume standing in for all ink pens) and it handles these two quite well. If you use pencil, there is a little bit of show-through if you go looking for it, but you could easily use all 144 “pages” of the book. The show-through becomes much more prominent with ink, especially from felt tip, brush, or fountain pens. There is also some minimal bleed-through with the more intense ink pens, but I never got it to actually mark on the next sheet. Still, it reduces the usable space of the sketchbook to 72 pages when using inks. Feathering is also a bit of an issue. There isn’t much of it, but when it happens (mostly with fountain pens) there are long thin lines of ink stretching away from your mark that almost look like little hairs. They’re pretty hard to see from far away, but when you notice them it’s hard to un-see.

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For the price it’s a nice little sketchbook (even if it cost more than I thought). It’s held up to a few months of moderate use from me with virtually no battle-damage, and while I suspect it to be less durable than a Leuchtturm or Moleskine it is short enough that it’ll probably last until you finish with it. The paper is good quality and pleasant to write on, and the handy pocket is there with an elastic band closure to keep every thing tidy. It’s a pretty good, if unrefined, option if you want a black pocket sketchbook.

Review- Ritepoint Chromatic

Every once in a while I like to take a look at something vintage and see how well it stacks up. Plus I’ve got a soft-spot for slim, fine (line) writing pens. Now I’m not entirely sure as to the status of the Chromatic (or Ritepoint, or whoever) but it does seem these pens (and refills) are discontinued, but easy to find online. Is it worth it to snag one?

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The pen body is very slim and stylish, reminiscent of the Cross Century. It’s a smooth cylinder, with a gold-banded break for the twist mechanism and tapers at the back and front. At the fron,t a third of the taper is in the form of a gold-colored metal cone, from which the point extends when the mechanism is engaged. The back taper terminates more abruptly and affixed to it is a fairly solid, basically flat clip that runs almost the length of the back section.

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The action of the pen is strange enough that I’m not sure it’s working properly. Turning the back half of the pen clockwise a quarter turn will extend the ballpoint and lock it into place. From there twisting will do nothing until enough force is applied counter-clockwise and the pen “clicks” at which point the tip will slowly retract completely. It’s an interesting compromise system and it works quite well. It’s just that everything feels a bit still and awkward. I can’t quite tell if it needs oil, is broken, or that’s just how it’s supposed to be.

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As for the writing, it’s quite good. My pen has a blue “microtip” cartridge installed. The ink is smooth enough coming out that I can write in cursive, though the lines themselves have some start-up and shading problems (oddly reminiscent of fountain pens). The line width is equivalent to, or slightly thinner than, most “fine” points and the ink properties are fairly standard. The only other function; the clip is better than average but nothing to write home about.

It’s a decent little interesting piece of history, but I wouldn’t say it’s essential for any collectors. And the impracticality of having to hunt down new-old-stock or second-hand refills or fashion your own out of whatever might fit makes it not a good choice for the regular user. If it sounds interesting to you I’d say go for it, but it’s nothing to run out and hunt down.

Review – Sharpie Twin Tip Fine/Ultra Fine

I like permanent markers, and Sharpies are some of the best. But there are many situations where the tip of a fine Sharpie is simply much to broad. Carrying around a second sharpie in extra-fine seems like a hassle, or vise-versa depending on which size one uses more. The people at Sharpie (Sanford (Rubbermaid)) must have figured this out at some point and so they now have multiple point Sharpies. Let’s take a look at the Fine/Ultra Fine version.

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The body of the pen is quite like a regular fine-point Sharpie. The cap is slick with a flimsily little plastic clip built in. The body is made out of a similar material and has the necessary information printed on it. Where there would usually be a rounded-off end on a normal Sharpie, there is instead a tiny cap that has a set of spines, and is much easier to grip than the other end. Pulling either cap off reveals a slick section that is nearly identical to regular Sharpie Fines and Ultra Fines. These sections are not quite slippery enough to have the pen fall out of one’s hands during normal usage. The larger cap posts very easily on the smaller one, but in a very well-thought-out design choice, the larger cap has several small studs that allow the smaller cap to in effect be posted. This doesn’t hold the cap in the most secure manner possible, but is better than the alternative of nothing.

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The tips are fairly standard. The Fine is slightly larger than a Micron 08 or about 1mm, the Ultra Fine is about 1/2 mm or about the size of a Micron 05. Both of these are large for standard writing, but for writing on boxes, other large spaces, or some drawing they are superb. The ink is standard Sharpie fare: a cold, deep black (when the marker runs dry it becomes a much warmer color) that covers well, but not the best. It is permanent and run-resistant, it stains clothes and is unpleasant on the skin. It is non-toxic for normal use, but heavily sniffing or eating would be cause for concern. Just be normal with your normal usage.

Is it worth it to get a pen with two tips? Yes, if you find a need for both. I’d suggest going with the fine more often, as the ultra fine tends to dry up faster with its smaller cap. But there is still a good amount of utility there. The thing is easy to use, and works really well. Moving, signing, warehousing, and large art pieces are where these will find their homes. And really, for a nice black permanent marker, there are few that match and none that are better.